Vacation Shopping on a Budget

When you’re on a budget you are probably happy enough to have made it to your destination, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to bring home more souvenirs than just photos and memories.

We all like to point to things we have in our house and say “I bought that on my amazing trip to…” If you have become a jetsetter who knows where to save money on airfare, hotels and activities, then you will have a bit of money left over for a little something here and there. Here are ways to shop on your trip for less.

Pick up things you can use

woman holding shopping bags

Who wouldn’t like to add to their wardrobe or jewelry box. Depending on just how much you saved during your travel planning, this could see you coming home with a few t-shirts, a new pair of handmade shoes or, as on one of our past vacations, a new wedding ring set.

Find something that you will get a lot of use of. Maybe it’s not clothing. Maybe it’s a fancy linen tablecloth or a set of candlesticks. Either of those things is more useful than a tote bag – you probably have a bunch of those already – or a pen emblazoned with the city’s name.

Decorate your tree

One of my favorite souvenirs from vacation – and a fun mission – is to bring back ornaments for my Christmas tree. Each holiday season I’m reminded of my fantastic travels and every year my tree becomes more and more international. If you go to more than one destination in a trip, try to find an ornament for each one.

While this doesn’t always work out (somehow I could find a fun one in Honduras, but absolutely none in Belize), maybe you can find something else suitable. Perhaps a big keychain would make a good substitute, or use a photo you took and put it in an ornament frame instead.

If you have kids, they will enjoy searching each store you go to for something to bring back. Like a scavenger hunt! Especially if you are traveling in the summer months when holiday items are scarce. Ornaments are also small, so they are easy to pack. Fragile ones can be protected by wrapping them in tissue and packing them inside a shoe.

Stock your kitchen

Unless you eat out every night – and if you do, you can probably afford a less budget-priced trip – you have to cook at home. Make it more enjoyable by bringing local flavors home with you. Find some spices that you can’t buy at home, a cookbook to make your new favorite dishes or even a few packages of something you found and loved.

When we visited the UK, we came home with some great Indian spices that were authentic and better than what could be found at home – fact: London has the highest Indian population outside of India – and boxes of cookies and fancy granola bars that we were sad to never eat again once we returned home. If you’re willing to check a bag or ship a box of goodies, your options for food stuffs opens up a bit more.

Shop the markets

young blonde woman shopping

Open-air markets are not only fun to browse, they are full of locally made products that are usually very reasonably priced. Get an even better deal by haggling with merchants, if it is customary to do. Not only can this save you money, but it enables you to engage with the local residents.

When you are visiting a foreign country, this also is the perfect chance to practice your language skills. You can find many things at markets from vintage tchotchkes and jewelry to handmade clothing and toys.

Pick one thing

If you’re really strapped for cash outside of the necessities, limit your souvenir loot to just one thing. In your travels you are likely to see something that you just can’t get out of your head. When that happens, you know you’ve found your holy grail. Your perfect one thing. Buy it and promise yourself you are done shopping for your entire trip. Of course, this is also the way to go if you are traveling light and just don’t have room for much more than what you initially brought with you.

Bring back souvenirs for others

If you just love shopping, then make yourself a list of people you want to buy gifts for. We normally travel in the fall, which means the holidays – and several birthdays – are right around the corner.

In order to avoid having to buy double gifts (souvenirs and holiday presents), we use our vacation to buy both at the same time. Family and friends love that we took time out of our trip to think about them and find something personal for them. They get a souvenir and a Christmas or birthday gift all in one.

Find the sales

two smiling female friends

There is normally a season for sales. That might be the months after the holidays or some other time. It varies by destination, but if you can save a ton on your trip that also coincides with their discount time, you can come home with a bunch of treasures for yourself and others, and your wallet might still have some bills in it when you go home!

Travel to developing countries

Everything is cheaper in developing countries. Their economies are dependent on tourism, so if you have a shopping budget you need to stick to, your dollars will go a lot further than expected in a place where most things are way more affordable.

We were so impressed by the low price tags on things in Ecuador that we decided to go fine jewelry shopping. This is where we picked up that matching pair of wedding rings that I talked about earlier. At home we would have paid three to four times as much for them. The budget price for the set made it worth the trip to the ATM to pay in cash. 

Settle for art reprints

In your travels you might find yourself in a museum or art gallery where you find something that you love. As a budget traveler, you probably don’t have room in your finances to pick up an original work of art. Heck, we can’t always even afford the next cheapest thing from the artist.

See a print you like, but the price tag makes you cry? Look to see if they have a calendar of the artist’s work. If they do, pick that up for a fraction of the price and get 12 pictures for the price of one. Once in a frame, no one will be able to tell that it isn’t a print, and you can switch it out anytime you like for one of the other 11 reproductions you have. 

Go all-inclusive

hotel at night

Traveling can be expensive, but there are many ways to cut costs and go on great holidays for less. One of the easiest ways to do this is by seeking out all-inclusive resorts that bundle all your meals, entertainment, lodging and, if you’re lucky, airfare into one manageable package.

You know exactly how much you’ve paid and any leftover money in your budget can be put toward activities that aren’t included in your rate, like shopping. 

Shop local

You probably hear this all the time: Shop local and support your local farmers, other workers and economy. Makes sense. Shopping where you live can be beneficial to you and others in your community.

Well, the same goes for travel. Shop local grocers, farmers markets and family-owned shops. Not only will you be helping the local economy thrive, but you’re also going to get better deals on local foods, engage with the locals, find authentic merchandise that is likely handmade or, at the very least, made in the area and go home with memories of the quaint stores you shopped in, instead of memories of wandering the endless aisles of a Wal-Mart (or similar).

No matter where you go, you can buy something unique to the destination that will make you a happy traveler and that you can enjoy once you get home.

Make sure to set your limit on what you can spend before you set off on your trip and research some of the most popular souvenirs of the region you are traveling in. This can give you a place to start when you know you only have so much to devote to what you want to buy. You don’t want to deplete your shopping dollars before realizing you missed something you really wish you could bring back with you.

With the Internet, it’s easier than ever to see what others say are must-have souvenirs. If you’re lucky, you might even find some tips on where or how to get the best deal.

About the author


A self-proclaimed budget travel enthusiast, Shereen spends her days looking for fantastic travel bargains, watching great (and sometimes really bad) movies with her husband, planning theme parties and preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

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